The iconic Mini hatch and convertible line-up gets a facelift and some tech upgrades to keep it up-to-date. We drive the hardcore John Cooper Works (JCW) variant to see if it provides fresh thrills.
2021 Mini JCW: what is it?
As part of a mid-lifecycle update, Mini has given its iconic hatchback and convertible models a couple of tweaks and tucks, to keep them as fresh as possible. The facelifted 2021 line-up consist of the Mini 3-door, the convertible and JCW variants, all of which were launched in one shot last month.
2021 Mini JCW: what's new on the outside?
The exterior changes are quite minimal and it’s hard to spot the differences, especially if you don’t have the previous Mini alongside as reference. Styling updates are subtle and centred round the revised nose that gets a broader grille extending down to the base of the front bumper, which along with the one at the rear, is new. The JCW model gets sportier treatment than the regular Mini, with more prominent vents in the bumper and a full-black, mesh-finish grille. The fog lamp housings in the bumper have been replaced with slim, vertical air intakes that give a sportier look, and the side indicators are now LED units. The signature Union Jack tail-lights are unchanged, but the rear bumper is new and incorporates fog lamps.
The JCW gets a broader grille, more prominent vents and black accents.
The wheel arches have been re-engineered to take a set of freshly designed and larger 17-inch alloys. You can go up to 18 inches on the JCW, but on Indian roads it’s better to stick to the standard 17 inchers. There’s a new range of colours and the roof comes with a three-tone option.
While these 18-inch wheels are available as an option, you are better off sticking with the standard 17-inchers.
2021 Mini JCW: what's new on the inside?
The cabin is similar to the pre-facelift model but gets new upholstery colours and more equipment. A significant change is a bigger 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen (earlier it could only be operated by the iDrive controller) and an (optional) 5.0-inch digital instrument display. The freshened up Mini JCW gets a fair amount of standard equipment, which includes LED headlamps, a rear view camera with parking sensors, ambient lighting, traction and stability control. A Harman Kardon Hi-Fi audio system, sports seats and steering wheel, which are options on the regular hatch and convertible, come as standard on the JCW.
The JCW gets a funcky cabin to go with its quirky exterior styling.
Our test Mini JCW is well-specced and fitted with options like a panoramic sunroof, front parking sensors, hands-free parking, and wireless phone charging. Matching the funky looks is an equally funky cabin, which isn’t particularly spacious. But then this is a Mini after all. Though the cabin is small, it’s not uncomfortable (if you don’t sit at the back), the seats are surprisingly generous and even tall people can find a very comfortable position. There’s not much space to store your stuff beyond the decently sized door pockets. The glove box is small, as are the cubbyholes in the central console and armrest. In fact, large smartphones like my iPhone 12 Pro don’t even fit in the wireless charger that’s new with the 2021 model range. The boot, of course, is small, but then this is not a car you’re going to travel around in with a lot of luggage.
Panoramic sunroof is available as an optional extra.
The Mini however isn’t small on luxury. Cabin quality can rival the biggest of luxury cars, and the overall feel-good factor conjured by a mix of high-grade plastics and finishes, wonderfully damped air con vents and solid, chunky switchgear continues to be a big part of the car’s charm. There’s no change to the dashboard design but it’s still refreshing to be in a car that has an array of high-quality physical switches and buttons, instead of mere icons on a screen. And we just love that large red toggle switch for the starter, which fires up the throaty sounding 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor.
The red toggle for the starter switch is a great touch.
2021 Mini JCW: what’s it like to drive?
We’ve picked the Mini JCW, the hottest variant of this 3-door hatchback, to see what fresh thrills it provides. JCW (for John Cooper Works) is to Mini what AMG is to Mercedes, which is essentially the in-house tuning division that produces high-performance derivatives of various models across the Mini portfolio.
The 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol engine developes 231hp and 320Nm.
The Mini range is powered by BMW’s 1,998cc B48 motor that develops 192hp in the 3-door hatch and convertible, while the JCW gets a substantial bump up to 231hp. This may not seem like a lot of horses in absolute terms, but in this midget-sized car, weighing just 1,275kg, it’s enough to scamper from rest to 100kph in a claimed 6.1sec. But the JCW feels even quicker than it actually is. The engine is incredibly responsive from low revs. In fact, for city driving, it’s a bit too responsive. Even with a gentle tap of the throttle pedal, it lurches forward, and calls for careful modulation of your right leg in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Also, the 8-speed auto transmission doesn’t like traffic and lurches a bit at slow speeds, but it’s this complete absence of turbo lag, a strong shot of low-end torque, a quick-shifting gearbox and an engine which revs fast and freely, coupled with diminutive dimensions and ultra-agile handling, that makes the JCW a weapon in traffic.
In terms of handling, the JCW is precise and extremely agile.
This is a car that feels alive like no other. It’s instantly reactive, has lightning-quick reflexes but at the same time demands a lot of attention and doesn’t let you relax. To be honest, Mumbai roads aren’t the best playground for this hyperactive baby, and you do have to watch out for potholes, which could easily flatten those rubber-band thin 205/40 R18 tyres. The 2021 Mini range gets adaptive dampers as an option, but our test JCW didn’t have them. The suspension is excessively stiff and has very little travel, and hence on rough bits, it bobs and skits around quite a bit and sharp ruts crash through.
The standard suspension is excessively stiff and has very little travel.
The truth is, there are few roads in India you can genuinely enjoy the Mini JCW on. The ideal habitat for the JCW, with its perfectly balanced chassis, is a smooth, twisty (and empty) road. Despite all that torque (320Nm of it) being funnelled through the front wheels, there’s little understeer. In fact, lifting off mid-corner neatly tightens your line and lets you pirouette from apex to apex with the finesse of a ballerina. There’s a certain precision in the way the JCW drives that you don’t find in any other hot hatch, and it’s this delectable handling that is a big part of its appeal.
2021 Mini JCW: should you buy one?
Priced at Rs 45.5 lakh (ex-showroom, India), you need a certain amount of commitment to buy something like the JCW. It’s a bit too excitable to be an everyday hatchback, and this is a car that the owner needs to pamper, rather than the other way around. But it’s hard not to be smitten by the JCW’s charm, nothing feels quite as alive or engaging for the money, and if you can find the roads, you will value it for what it is.